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So a couple months ago, I got married to my wonderful husband! Luckily this is after I started being more conscious about my decisions, so we balanced the environmental impact of our wedding with our budget, desires, and other constraints like family to plan a sustainable wedding.
We went a fairly non-traditional route with our wedding. We decided to have a small ceremony on a Friday night at a restaurant closer to where we live with close family and friends and then a reception the next evening with the rest of our guests at a VFW closer to the majority of my husband’s family.
We had a very casual atmosphere, no wedding party, and were budget-conscious. Not having a wedding party meant our friends didn’t need to spring for new outfits and deal with the hassles of being a bridesmaid or groomsman. By being budget-conscious, this meant we didn’t always choose the most sustainable option, but we did what we could.
Besides my parents, my entire family lives 1000+ miles away so those who came had to travel by plane. Only a portion of my family did come though, so there were less travel miles than originally expected. Be sure to account for travel emissions when writing up your sustainable wedding guest list.
We tried to keep our guest list small, but my husband has a large extended family. We ended up with about 90 people (we had a handful of last minute cancellations so I don’t remember exactly what the number ended up being).
Attire And Accessories
Now because my husband is not as strict as me, he bought almost everything he wore new. He bought a regular black suit which he will use for years to come because he previously only had a grey one. He also never owed a true pair of dress shoes. Lastly, he bought his ring new online.
I did get to pick out his tie secondhand and the little orange flower brooch he wore in place of a boutonniere.
I either already owed everything I wore or bought it secondhand. I bought my dress from a consignment shop, and my wedding band was purchased pre-owned from Etsy. My mom found a tiara at a garage sale, and I wore a necklace and shoes I already owned. I also bought a yellow pashmina for taking photos outside since autumn breezes are very cold!
I plan on getting my dress tailored from floor-length to knee-length so I can easily wear it again on less formal occasions.
I tried to get as much of our décor secondhand as I could. If I planned earlier, I could have ordered things online from websites like Wedding Recycle and Bravo Bride. These websites are great resources for sustainable wedding planners. Unfortunately I bought a bit more new and disposable than I would have wanted.
Our centerpieces consisted of:
- A secondhand vase filled with autumnal fake flowers (some secondhand, but most new because thrift stores were lacking in the fake flower department)
- A secondhand mason jar tied at the neck with a ribbon (new) filled with a floating candle (new)
- A gourd (new and these came as a set of 12 in plastic netting)
- Copper-colored wire that held a DIYed table number (all new)
I was surprised and thankful when our guests took home 8 of the 11 vases with flowers. We brought the mason jars back to the thrift shop (none had lids to begin with so they aren’t too useful for me). The ribbon and candles were waste. I thought the gourds would last as decorations, but they went bad and I threw them out.
Other Reception Decor
On our gift table we had a basket of thrifted fake flowers, two secondhand glass bowl vases (like tiny fish bowls) with floating candles, a card box DIYed by my mom, and our guest “book” Jenga with markers.
Like the mason jars, we brought the basket and vases back to the thrift store, and my husband suggested keeping the card box so his brothers could use it whenever they get married if they wanted.
I felt having a traditional guest book was pointless and a huge waste of paper because how often are you going to read it? I scoured Amazon trying to find something better, and after probably literal hours found this Jenga set to act as my sustainable wedding guest book.
It was a larger than normal set, had no branding on the pieces, and came with a tent card to explain what to do. Now everyone’s messages have become a part of our growing game collection.
We also decided to have a game table with eight or so thrifted board games in case people didn’t feel like dancing. We made sure each game had all the pieces, and I created a little sign for the table propped up in a borrowed picture frame.
We did mail paper invitations because emails would not be possible for our guest list. We did, however, have people RSVP online instead of mailing us more paper back. The online RSVP still caused a few issues for some guests though.
The only other paper used was table numbers, a seating list, and a few signs for the buffet items, our game table, and our gift table. We did not have individual place cards or ceremony programs so as to cut down on waste.
If you couldn’t tell by the fake flowers in the centerpieces, I don’t like fresh flowers. Like at all. They also cost a ton. I can’t remember the exact price, but when my parents-in-law got remarried last year, 4 boutonnieres, 3 single roses, and a tiny bouquet cost like $100 or something. That’s insane.
So for my bouquet, I went a different route.
I present to you the wonderful world of brooches!
I created my bouquet using 50 or so brooches. All of them were already owned (passed down from my mom and grandma) or bought secondhand either online or at the Brimfield Antique Show. I also gave my parents and parents-in-law brooches to wear: silver flowers for moms and gold maple leaves for dads.
I bought a floral foam sphere and cone to create my bouquet. I just didn’t know what I could use in place of the foam so I relented and bought it. I cut the sphere to flatten it so I could glue it to the cone.
Then I wrapped secondhand fabric around everything (took many many tries). I finally tied a white ribbon around the bouquet which I took from my mom’s sewing basket.
I used floral wire my mom also had gathering dust in her sewing basket to wrap around each brooch to create the “stem” to stick into the foam. While not 100% secure, the brooches were held tightly enough to last both nights.
Although I could keep it as is, I think I’ll end up deconstructing the bouquet so the brooches are all wearable again. Too bad the rest goes to waste though.
We initially weren’t planning on having any vendors besides a Justice of the Peace, or at least I wasn’t. In the end, however, we did also have a photographer and a DJ.
Our Justice of the Peace lived in the town where we had our ceremony so she barely needed to travel. I chose her partially for this reason.
I dislike having my photo taken, and I usually prefer to enjoy a moment rather than photograph it. How many times do people go through their wedding albums anyway? To me, photos taken by friends and family would have sufficed. But my husband and family wanted a professional.
We decided to only have a photographer for the ceremony, and luckily we found someone who did by the hour rather than some whole day package. She only needed to come to one evening so that cut down on travel emissions.
After going to my cousin’s wedding earlier in the year, we realized how important a DJ was for keeping things moving. We ended up hiring a friend of my husband’s brother, and he did a great job being flexible with us.
Because we had two events, we had two dinners to plan. The restaurant gave us a list of options which made it very easy, and our reception “caterer” was the local grocery store. Again, this was a huge savings in travel miles since the store was five minutes down the road.
Dinner and Dessert
I am a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, and my husband is a pollo-vegetarian (poultry only, no seafood or red meat). Because of this, we avoided red meat in our food choices. You can plan a more sustainable wedding by reducing the amount of animal products at your dinner.
For our ceremony dinner, we choose their vegetarian pasta, chicken parmesan, and we did select beef lasagna although I don’t even know if anyone chose it. They gave everyone a colored tab so servers knew which dish you wanted, and I don’t recall seeing any pink slips.
For our reception dinner, we had a large variety of foods in a buffet. Chicken and turkey, eggplant parmesan, pasta primavera (delicious!), mashed potatoes, broccoli, mixed veggies, and mac’n’cheese for the kids.
We bought rolls and a small tub of butter for everyone at the start of the buffet and salt and pepper grinders to set at the end. This way we only needed a single tub of butter and a single seasoning set instead of eleven of everything at the tables themselves.
We had a decent amount of food at the end of the night, but family, friends, and we took it home for leftovers. My brother-in-law even took a big tray of salad to feed to his and his girlfriend’s guinea pigs!
Our dessert table was also a little non-traditional. We bought a simple cake, a couple pies, and a couple cheesecakes from the wholesale club. We also ordered a cookie and brownie tray from the grocery store. Some people (me) prefer other desserts so I wanted to make sure we covered the bases.
Tableware and Linens
We rented all of our dishes and linens because our original idea of thrifting it all had no end plan. What were we going to do with 100 plates and forks and knives and cups? Consider renting versus buying when planning a sustainable wedding.
Despite so many “just buy disposable” comments from family, I stuck to my guns and made sure there weren’t going to be huge bags of trashed single use plastics at the end of the night. In spite of my efforts, the rented items were wrapped in plastic, but this was less waste than disposable dishware and table cloths would have been.
Gifts And Favors
My husband and I are not big on gifts. We don’t really get each other birthday or Christmas gifts (we lasted like two years before giving that up). If we do, it’s an experience like dinner or a mini-vacation someplace. So we didn’t exchange gifts, and we also didn’t give our parents gifts beyond the brooches. The most sustainable wedding gifts are no gifts at all (haha)!
We did not create a registry because we already own everything we could need. We lived separately in college and have been living together for over a year now. We own all the kitchen gadgets and bath towels we need. Instead, we put up a “house fund” on our wedding website, but all but one person just gave us a monetary gift in a card anyway.
Neither my husband nor I wanted a bachelor/bachelorette party. But other people insisted. He had a very fun night out with a group of friends, and I ended up having a lunch with some family and friends. I made sure I brought my own container to the restaurant to take home my leftovers.
I had initially not planned on party favors because of all the waste and how pointless they usually are, but I got pressured. I ended up finding custom mint tins and actually really liked them.
But it ended up being a bit of a zero waste fail. It never crossed my mind the mints would come in a little plastic bag inside each tin (that’s not how it is in the pictures!). I minimized the waste and the mints were a nice consumable gift.
Conclusion – What I Would Have Changed
In an ideal world, I would have thrown a more sustainable wedding. I would’ve had those cute seed paper invitations, completely secondhand décor, and a farm to table organic caterer. I also wish those mint tins were like Altoids and didn’t have plastic bags inside.
All in all, I like how our wedding turned out, even if it was hectic because we had no hired help during the reception. The tables were as pretty as I pictured, the food was delicious, and our DJ played great songs. Even if it wasn’t as green as I dreamed, I did my best.
Are any of you planning a sustainable wedding right now? How are you incorporating a low waste lifestyle into your big day?